neuroscience

Christian LInder/Wikimedia

It's not brain death, but it's not quite like life as we know it, either: being in a vegetative or non-responsive state. 

British-Canadian neuroscientist Adrian Owen has made great efforts to communicate with people in these states. 

And to date, he's found roughly 20% who may still have minds intact, despite brain and/or body damage. 

Owen tells the story of his research in the book Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death

DavidShankbone, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2319940

Poor humans.  Such big noses, so little ability to smell. 

Even rats and mice get credit for better senses of smell than we have. 

But that could change with the work of John McGann at Rutgers University. 

The title of his recent publication pretty much hits the nail on the head: "Poor human olfaction is a 19th-century myth." 

© Raimond Spekking, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1084078

"Do not go past this point."  How do YOU respond to a sign with that message? 

A lot of us think "maybe it's not SO dangerous..."  And we're often wrong. 

Psychologist Steve Casner shows us HOW often in his book Careful: A User's Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds

We learn much about why we're wired to ignore danger, and what that gets us. 

Christian LInder/Wikimedia

"Two heads are better than one" seems like a mismatched phrase with "fake news," but there's a common thread. 

And that is the working of the human brain.  We tend to think better in groups than as individuals. 

And that may explain why left to our own devices, we believe in conspiracy theories or lying reporters. 

Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach are the co-authors of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone.

Rod Waddington, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54018882

Why does a crowd yelling "surprise" at a birthday party delight one person but make another grumpy?  They're just wired that way, we like to say. 

And we could very well be wrong.  Psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett has a different theory: that emotions do not come from specific areas in the brain in all people, but from all over the brain, depending on an individual's experiences and thinking. 

Barrett lays out the theory in How Emotions Are Made, just now hitting bookstores. 

Wikimedia

It was an uneventful trip in the car, but that guy who cut you off and forced you to stomp on the brakes stays with you. 

There's a reason: the human brain's "negativity bias."  It keeps us from getting into danger, but certainly has its drawbacks. 

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson says it can be avoided; he shows how in his book Hardwiring Happiness

How To Be Your Own Lie Detector

Sep 28, 2016
Wikimedia

Just in time for the heart of election season, A Field Guide to Lies

Daniel Levitin joined us less than a year ago to talk about his previous book, The Organized Mind.  He's back with advice on how to look at the way people use facts and figures, and pierce through the inconsistencies and outright untruths. 

Just think about it: the Internet gives us access to so much information... so much of it wrong. 

Standing Up For Compassion

Sep 27, 2016
YouTube

What's your definition of compassion?  And can you even put it into words? 

David Breaux has been asking people to do just that for YEARS now.  He stands on a street corner in Davis, asking people to write their thoughts on compassion in a notebook he holds. 

By now, he's filled several, because the best of them are contained in a book he self-published. 

He and book are on tour, and David Breaux visits Ashland on that tour. 

How To Gain Power By Being Nice

May 26, 2016
Penguin Books

When psychologist Dacher Keltner first began studying power, he thought he'd focus on politics, battlefields, and Wall Street.  But he quickly discovered that people use power in many situations, even with loved ones. 

He also found that taking care of OTHER people's needs can enhance power, quite the opposite of what many people might think.  The wielding of power through compassion is one of the themes of Keltner's book The Power Paradox. 

Things You DO NOT Want To Inherit

May 23, 2016
Viking Press

Maybe your parents didn't get along so well.  Maybe, once you got older and noticed, your grandparents had very similar issues. 

We can't choose the families we're born into, but we can take note of what existed before we came along. 

Mark Wolynn, creator of the Family Constellation Institute, writes of "inherited family trauma" in his book It Didn't Start With You

Finding And Using Your True "Grit"

May 19, 2016
Scribner/Simon & Schuster

We know so much about the brain, and nerves, and neurotransmitters... but... there's still no set of directions on how best to think and use our lives and gifts.  So we resort to terms like "grit." 

Which is the term psychologist Angela Duckworth chooses to use for the combination of passion and persistence that often yields good results. 

So her book is called Grit as well. 

Perception From Picasso (And Others)

May 12, 2016
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Close your eyes for a moment and try to visualize what's in the area around you.  Can you?  We tend to run on autopilot, not taking much note of familiar surroundings. 

But attention to detail is critical at times, and Amy Herman teaches a course called "The Art of Perception."  Art?  Yes, students look at works of art to learn how to fine-tune their visual perception. 

Amy Herman put it into book form in Visual Intelligence

Humans Re-Assess Animal Thinking

May 5, 2016
W.W. Norton Books

Does the cat actually judge you when you trip on your bathrobe belt?  We can't rule it out. 

Science knows a lot more about animal thinking these days, enough to know that we may not rank above animals so much as next to them--think evolutionary bush, not ladder. 

Biologist Frans de Waal studies primates and other creatures in his work, and he wrote the book Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are?  He provides many examples of animals using their brains well. 

Inside OHSU's Vollum Institute

Apr 29, 2016

  Science is working hard to understand the causes of mental illness, but we're not far removed--if at all--from dismissals like "he's just acting crazy."  

 The language is elevated a bit above that at the Vollum Institute at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.  Researchers there work to decode the way the brain works, in physical as well as mental health.  

Knowing More + Understanding Less = Internet

Apr 27, 2016
W.W. Norton Books

  Can you even remember the last time you opened a physical dictionary or encyclopedia? 

You don't have to anymore, with the ability to type any term into Google and get results in less than a second--and no paper cuts. 

So the facts are there for us... now there's the issue of CONTEXT.  In The Internet of Us, author Michael Lynch points to evidence that shows we may know more, but we don't understand more. 

In fact, we seem to understand less. 

Thinking About The Thinking Of Others

Mar 25, 2016
Penguin Books

"The mind is what the brain does," it's been said.  And oh boy, it does a LOT. 

And even though we cannot claim telepathy, we are certainly aware of other minds and what they are doing, without offering a penny for anyone's thoughts. 

Think of our thinking of other minds as belonging to The Mind Club

That's the name of the book by psychologists Daniel Wegner and Kurt Gray examining our attitudes towards each other, other thinking animals, and even some inanimate objects. 

This Is Your Brain On Teen

Feb 26, 2016
Wikimedia

We have so many questions, just about the place where Dr. Abigail Baird works.  Really, the Laboratory for Adolescent Science?  It is INDEED a study of adolescents, not immature science.   

Dr. Baird focuses on reasoning and decision-making, and how these skills develop as we age (we hope). 

Jokes aside, Abigail has worked to abolish the death penalty for juvenile lawbreakers. 

Another (Good) Day At The Office

Feb 23, 2016
Crown Business Books

We learn more about the brain all the time; don't you wish you had a dollar for every time you heard the term "neuroscience" in the last year? 

That field is only one of several that are brought to bear in Caroline Webb's approach to improving your day--ANY day. 

Her book is How To Have A Good Day

Seeing Our Blind Spots

Feb 12, 2016
Christian LInder/Wikimedia

  We try and try to be as fair as possible to our fellow humans, but darn it, our primitive brains continue to hold onto some biases. 

Law professor Erik Girvan at the University of Oregon says implicit biases are nothing to be ashamed of, but certainly to be aware of. 

He plans a pair of workshops this week on the role of implicit bias in decision making. 

Tech And The Senses

Jan 18, 2016
Basic Books

Finding your way to the bathroom in the dark is a sure sign that you don't need a lot of sensory input to make your way in your usual pathways. 

In fact, scientists now tell us that a majority of what we experience is not necessarily "real," but the world as filtered through our perceptions. 

And we can take advantage of that fact, manipulating the brain for our well-being and gain. 

Think virtual reality, artificial limbs, and more... these are among the gadgets and approaches in Kara Platoni's book We Have The Technology

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